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  • The Stem Family in Eurasian Perspective. Revisiting House Societies, 17th-20th centuries
  • Marie-Pierre Arrizabalaga
Fauve-Chamoux, Antoinette, and Ochiai, Emiko (eds.) — The Stem Family in Eurasian Perspective. Revisiting House Societies, 17th-20th centuries. Bern, Peter Lang, 2009. Pp. 558.

Antoinette Fauve-Chamoux and Emiko Ochiai offer a comprehensive synthesis on inheritance practices in non-egalitarian societies in Europe and Asia where the stem family system shaped practices, strategies, and behaviours. This publication is drawn from discussions during the conferences organized within the Eurasian Project on Population and Family History where contributors concluded that family studies in Europe and Asia could not be completed without comparing families' life-cycle evolution and without using different sources and methods such as censuses, family reconstitutions, macro-structural and micro-longitudinal methods, household typology, network typology, and co-residence analysis. These approaches and methods allow researchers to consider time, family, demographic, individual and structural constraints and to discern gender-differentiated patterns and behaviours. The originality of the volume derives first from the authors' demonstration that there were similarities, as well as differences, in family systems both in Europe and Asia, as well as within Europe and within Asia. Second and most importantly, they show that the house system and the stem family form in particular did not systematically exclude female headship and heirship either in Europe or in Asia, and that women played a greater role than the existing historical literature has acknowledged.

In the extensive historiographical, methodological, and bibliographical introduction, the co-editors explain the state of current research on household structures in Europe and Asia and the evolution of the debate on the importance of the stem family system since the 1960s. The other contributors show that the stem family system in regions of Europe and Asia where the house system was and is sometimes prevalent today has conditioned household structures and inheritance practices over time, imposing the co-residence of aging parents and their single heir, his or her spouse, and their unmarried siblings and children: a three-generational cohabitation with only one married couple and unmarried siblings at each generation. These practices clearly shaped families' and individuals' histories, yet they did not exclude women.

Eight specialists on the European family also participate in the discussion. Richard Wall argues that Le Play's categorization is original because it helps to understand family practices regarding the choice of the heir, marriage strategies, inheritance practices, retirement and the destinies of non-inheriting children. [End Page 417] Le Play's writings call for a redefinition of household typology, which, for Richard Wall, should be more adapted to modern technology and sources. Jürgen Schlumbohn argues that there was no cause-effect relationship between stem family household structures and single inheritance practices, stem-family forms being adopted by landed as well as landless families at different times and for different reasons in Germany. Josef Ehmer clearly indicates that emotional ties in Austria prevailed over material ties and therefore the "stem family" values did not apply to the Austrian family. Jim Brown reached a similar conclusion in his study of Lower Austria. Sølvi Sogner, for her part, argues that the concept of "stem family" in Norway does not apply despite families' recent attempt to establish nobility lineages. In Finland, by contrast, Beatrice Moring explains, stem-family forms have prevailed over time, with landed families advocating for single male inheritance, generally through the first-born son (male primogeniture leading to the proletarianization of the excluded children), while landless families favoured nuclear family forms. In northern countries, families have showed a great capacity for adaptation through decisions over the selection of the single heir depending on conditions such as individual character (compatibility for cohabitation), demography (family size and marriage age), and new economic realities (professional urban or industrial opportunities). For Picardy-Wallonia, Antoinette Fauve-Chamoux argues that the stem-family system evolved in a similar way as in the Pyrenees in the nineteenth century, with a more traditional stem-family household form which required male or female single inheritance, early parental retirement at times, the compensation of the excluded siblings, and the heir's cohabitation with parents and unmarried siblings. In...


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